How do you get tracked on the internet? How can you counter this?

Tracking individual users on the Internet can be beneficial for different groups, institutions, and programs. Data dealers, advertisers, surveillance services, malware and more therefore use different methods to create a digital movement profile. In addition, data is collected when individual pages are accessed, i.e. regardless of the use of several websites in a row. Because individual pages, hosting services, Trojans, etc. can also query the user's technology by querying the IP address, the operating system, the browser and other parameters. Advertising, local restrictions, downloads and so on are then adapted to this.

How does tracking work on the internet and how can you escape web tracking through apps and tricks? Here is an insight into cookies, fingerprinting, VPN, Tor and Co.

How does tracking work on the internet and how can you escape web tracking through apps and tricks? Here is an insight into cookies, fingerprinting, VPN, Tor and Co.

The simplest method: Identify users' technology

It is no longer a secret that different platforms for services such as B. Adjust their prices for tourist offers (package holidays, flights, rental cars, etc.) depending on the location and technology. If you come from a "rich" country, you will be shown higher prices. If you use a modern Apple Mac, iPhone or iPad, then it is possible that you will also see higher prices than those people who use Windows PCs or Android devices. 

Because websites can read information about the hardware, the operating system, the browser, the screen resolution, etc. If you want to hide all these factors, you can, for example, in the VirtualBox set up a Linux system and there with the Tor Browser surfing. This has to be restarted every now and then and never used in full screen mode. You can also change the resolution of the virtual system again and again.

Change the IP address and thus the location (virtually)

A very simple way to determine the location of a computer, smartphone or tablet is that IP address. This can also offer a cross-page option, e.g. for advertisers and data collectors, to track you on the Internet. The obfuscation and regular change of the IP address as well as the use of a shielded DNS (Domain Name System) is possible with a VPN service. 

An example would be NordVPN, since there - how on the official website shown - not only can the IP be changed via more than 5.200 servers in 60+ countries, but also its own DNS is used. Journalists, among others, can protect themselves from (political) persecution with this and with other measures. Private users can use the virtual change of location for streaming services in Germany, Austria or Switzerland to activate films and series that are not available.

So you will be tracked via cookies on the Internet

Not every page tracks extensively and not every shop or every advertising agency is interested in personal data for the adaptation of advertisements. However, there are enough efforts on the WWW to ensure that you are "followed" across pages by so-called data dealers, social media platforms, advertisers and the like. The measures used may include cookies, among other things. They are compared as identification data by data collectors on various websites in order to create a usage profile.

In addition to regular cookies, which do not have to be anything bad per se, but simply ensure regular use on most pages (see Borlabs cookie plugin), there are a few special features. Examples would be supercookies, flash cookies and evercookies. As the name suggests, evercookies are difficult to get rid of. Integrated in Flash player content (today no longer supported), for example, the NSA used it to track users of the Tor browser in the past. 

Tracking is carried out on the Internet without cookies

If you open your social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on while surfing with the same browser, even more tracking is possible. Because your profile can be searched automatically; Shared links then indicate pages that you (possibly regularly) visit. The advertising, tracking or monitoring software can then associate them with the other pages you have visited.

Technically more complex, but less conspicuous for you, are methods such as canvas fingerprinting. A script is used to write a “fingerprint” in text or graphic form in the browser's display. The display (canvas) is then defined by the device, operating system, screen resolution, graphics card, etc. This means that the script content is rendered slightly differently on each device. If it is rendered the same on several pages, it is very likely that the same person is calling it.

In addition to graphic elements that allow tracking without cookies, there are also audio calculations. These do not result in the browser or the individual page playing audio at all. It is only checked from different websites whether the audio input would be calculated the same and thus output at the same frequency. This is made possible, for example, via software interfaces, so-called APIs. This can also be used to compare the battery level and other device factors (also via apps on mobile devices).

Apple advertises that users' data protection is particularly important. At Apple, the business model is also different from that of Google and Facebook, which massively evaluate and use user data to bring advertising to men and women.

Apple advertises that users' data protection is particularly important. At Apple, the business model is also different from that of Google and Facebook, which massively evaluate and use user data to bring advertising to men and women.

What is web tracking used for?

Data from web and app tracking can be used in various ways. The information about the recipients is used especially for advertisements, not least for the well-known Google Ads. Have you perhaps looked at strollers, mobiles, changing tables and a blog post about bottle preparation in shops? Then, in the future, you will likely see advertisements tailored to parents-to-be. This is conceivable and feasible in many, if not all, directions.

But even breaking the law on the Internet can be tracked with web tracking. From insults and threats to buying weapons or drugs on the Darknet, everything is there. In authoritarian states and dictatorships, political persecution can also be initiated if criticism is written, someone from the management team is insulted or foreign media are consumed. From targeted advertising to arbitrary persecution, everything is included.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention from Apple

By the way: In the Safari browser from Apple there is already an "Intelligent Tracking Prevention" which can be found under macOS 11.0 Big Sur, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 will be expanded to include the "Privacy Report" from autumn 2020. This is a list of the measures that are used on the accessed website to collect / use your data. You can find out more about Apple's privacy efforts at apple.com/de/privacy/

Conclusion on the subject of internet tracking and protection from it

Maybe it just annoys you that you always have to see advertising adapted to your surfing behavior. You may also want to keep yourselves exempt from punishment in China or similar countries, because Internet use, which is considered normal here, is not permitted there. Or you work as a journalist and cannot guarantee your safety if your data exchange provides information about your person and your location. 

For these and many other cases it is possible to lead the web tracking on the wrong track. It is also possible to disguise the IP, the technical data of the end device and other details. The combination of virtual machine, Tor browser and VPN service would be possible, for example. What do you think? What tips and experiences can you share with me? Feel free to leave a comment!

Sources: 1, 2

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